By Alice Thomas
Parents and teachers can do a lot to encourage higher level thinking, even when they are answering children’s questions. According to Dr. Robert Sternberg, a professor of psychology and education at Yale University, answers to children’s questions can be categorized into seven levels, from low to high, in terms of encouraging higher levels of thinking. While we wouldn’t want to answer every question on level seven, we wouldn’t want to answer every question on levels one and two, either. Here are the different levels and examples of each.
- Reject the question.
Examples: “Don’t ask me any more questions.”
“Because I said so.”
- Restate or almost restate the question as a response.
Examples: “Why do I have to go eat my vegetables?” “Because you have to eat your vegetables.”
“Why is that man acting so crazy?” “Because he’s insane.”
“Why is it so cold?” “Because it’s 15° outside.”
- Admit ignorance or present information.
Examples: “I don’t know, but that’s a good question.”
Or, give a factual answer to the question.
- Voice encouragement to seek response through authority.
Examples: “Let’s look that up on the internet.”
“Let’s look that up in the encyclopedia.”
“Who do we know that might know the answer to that?”
- Encourage brainstorming, or consideration of alternative explanations.
Examples: “Why are all the people in Holland so tall?” Let’s brainstorm some possible answers.” Maybe its genetics, or maybe its diet, or maybe everybody in Holland wears elevator shoes, or … etc. When brainstorming, it is important to remember all ideas are put out on the table. Which ones are “keepers” and which ones are tossed in the trash can is decided later.
- Encourage consideration of alternative explanations and a means of evaluating them.
Examples: “Now how are we going to evaluate the possible answer of genetics? Where would we find that information? Information on diet? The number of elevator shoes sold in Holland?” etc.
- Encourage consideration of alternative explanations plus a means of evaluating them, and follow-through on evaluations.
Examples: “Okay, let’s go find the information for a few days – we’ll search through the encyclopedia and the internet, make telephone calls, conduct interviews, and other things. Then we will get back together next week and evaluate our findings.”
This method can be equally effective with schoolwork and with everyday matters that are not “schoolwork” such as how late an adolescent can stay out on Saturday night or who is getting to go to a concert. For example, polling several families that are randomly or mutually chosen may produce more objective results than either parent or child “skewing” the results by picking persons whose answers will support their way of thinking.